We may not always realize it, but ethics are an important part of beading and jewelry design; and for every beader there comes a time to ask questions that don’t always have clear answers. These quandaries get even more complicated for those designers who use the internet to share their work, or to find inspiration. It’s not always easy to know where lines are drawn, and there are often shades of gray.
Whether you’re a brand new beader, or a seasoned designer, a little brush up on the do’s and don’ts of beading is never a bad idea. Today I’m going to cover some of the most common questions asked by beaders regarding published tutorials, and hopefully give some clear explanations for each. I can’t claim to be a definite expert in this sometimes treacherous area, and every country or region has different laws, and customs that will effect the unwritten rules. When in doubt, always do a little research, and let your conscience be your guide!
Part One: Magazines and Beading Books
Is it okay to make designs from magazine tutorials and beading books?
Absolutely! Each designer has their own motivation for sharing a design and tutorial in a publication, but the general purpose behind these beading how-to’s is to share new ideas and techniques, and encourage beaders to try new materials. They are there to help you learn, experiment, and develop your skills. They also help to sell more beads, which keeps the bead stores open and supplying us with our materials.
What can I do with designs I make from published projects?
Wear them, give them to friends, share a picture on your blog (with credit), or all of the above. Remember that the piece you make is yours, but the design is not. Unless you have permission from the designer, you can’t sell what you’ve made, donate it to a charity auction, enter it in a contest, or put its picture in your shop banner.
Many designers are open to the idea of beaders selling recreations of their designs, but you must get in touch with them and ask. Most magazines and books will include contact information for each designer, or you can contact the publisher for forwarding.
What if my project is different from the original?
This is where things get a little muddy. Even the most elaborate designs, when broken down, are made up of basic techniques and common materials. So it would seem that simply changing the bead colors or shapes, or adding an extra row of stitches would make a unique piece. In 99.9% of cases, a simple switch does not make a design unique from the tutorial. If you’re in doubt, it’s probably not different enough.
As disappointing as this can be, especially after you’ve put so much effort into making something, keep in mind that the tutorial you are using is intended to help you learn and experiment. The knowledge and experience you have gained by making the piece is more valuable than the selling price. You can take these ideas and make them your own, and the more experience you have, the easier it will be to tell the difference between inspiration and imitation.
But don’t the designers get paid for their tutorials?
Some magazines do pay a small fee to print original projects, but not always. When they do, they also have the designer sign a contract, which prohibits them from selling the tutorial or teaching it to others for a certain length of time. It’s almost impossible to get rich or even make a living selling tutorials to magazines and publishers.
As a community, beaders are very generous, and we’re lucky to have so many designers and teachers to guide and inspire us. While we are fortunate to have many free and inexpensive resources to draw from, our mentors deserve to be compensated for their time and experience, and to feel that their designs are in good hands.
What if I can figure out how to make a design without a tutorial?
Whether the artist has given instructions for a project or not, the design still belongs to them, and the same rules apply. When in doubt, consider how you would react if someone dissected one of your designs, and copied it for profit. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if it feels like stealing, it probably is.
What if I give credit to the designer?
We should always give credit where it is due, and when sharing a picture of your creation, or showing it off to your beading circle, dropping the designer’s and/or publication’s name is the way to go. The same goes for inspiration, if something you learned from a tutorial helped you to create a unique design of your own. However, giving the designer’s name doesn’t make it okay to sell copies of their work without permission.
How do you feel about beading ethics? I would love to hear your feedback on these topics, and your questions about these and other design dilemmas. Next time we’ll discuss online tutorials and the difference between technique and design.